American Express: The Best Credit Cards for Military Members [2021]

Military family at computer

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When I joined the military I had absolutely no idea about life, credit cards, or cooking. Although I still can’t cook, a decade later and I’ve figured out a few things about life. As for credit cards? Don’t even ask me how many I’ve got.

I first began learning about points and miles while I was still active duty, and I quickly realized that, while banks such as Chase and Citi all grant perks to service members, nobody matches the benefits that American Express offers to all active-duty military members.

In this guide, we’re going to break down all the best credit cards American Express has for its customers, what they offer, and why you should get them. What’s stopping you?

Which Credit Cards Waive Annual Fees for Military Members?

Military formation
Image Credit: Carissa Rawson

Everyone hates annual fees. It’s a given. Luckily for service members, all the major banks will waive annual fees for their credit cards. Chase, Citi, Capital One, and American Express all waive their fees as a matter of course. Discover, meanwhile, only offers fee-free credit cards, but has gone an extra step and capped the interest rate on its credit cards to 5.9%, which is exorbitantly generous.

American Express isn’t quite that big-hearted, but it does offer something that other banks won’t: waived annual fees on both its business and consumer credit cards. Why is that important? Because if you’ve got a small business, you can effectively double the number of credit cards you’re able to hold.

This is especially beneficial for cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, both of which have hefty annual fees and offer different benefits that are equally worthwhile.

Why Is American Express the Best for Military Members?

Military woman with phone
Image Credit: Ryan Smith via Navy Federal Credit Union

So it’s true that American Express will waive annual fees for military members on both its consumer and business credit cards. That’s good, but what really makes American Express stand out as the best option is the sheer volume of high-end credit and charge cards it offers.

Of course, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card is renowned for its bonus categories and the Citi Prestige® Card is excellent for offering a fourth-night free on hotel stays, but these cards are the outliers for these banks, which focus more on mid-level cards such as the World of Hyatt Credit Card or the Citi Premier℠ Card. Both of these cards provide reasonable benefits for their sub-$100 annual fee, but can’t compare to Amex’s offerings. 

We’ve already mentioned the Amex Platinum card and the Amex Business Platinum card, but did you know there are other variants of the Amex Platinum card? The American Express Platinum Card® for Schwab offers all of the same benefits as the regular Amex Platinum card in addition to its perks, while The Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Morgan Stanley has the same features but can even put some cash directly into your pocket. There’s also the American Express® Gold Card, and its business version, a green card, a blue card, and even a black card. There’s a veritable rainbow of cards. 

Amex’s advantage doesn’t stop at its own cards, though. Thanks to its excellent partnerships, American Express also offers co-branded credit cards from Delta, Hilton, and Marriott. Each of these, in turn, offers several different levels of benefits depending on how much of an annual fee you’ll tolerate.

Unless you’re an active-duty service member, that is.

Having all Amex annual fees waived unlocks the most premium of credit cards to all soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. These cards are on an entirely different level, offering thousands of dollars per year in statement credits, top-tier elite status, free companion flights on first class tickets, and annual free nights at prestigious hotels. American Express also waives late fees, over-limit fees, returned payment fees, and statement copy request fees for active-duty military.

How Many American Express Cards Can You Have?

Like all banks, Amex limits the number of cards each member can hold at once. For Amex, this means you can hold up to 4 credit cards and 10 charge cards. These numbers include both personal and business cards.

What’s the difference between a credit and a charge card? A credit card, like the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, has a fixed credit limit. Once you’ve maxed it out, that’s it. You’re able to pay off a credit card over many months, though you’ll be on the hook for any interest you incur.

Charge cards, on the other hand, have varied spending power according to your use habits. Unlike credit cards, whatever you charge to your card will be due in full every month. American Express has many of these, such as the Amex Platinum card.

Now, let’s take a look at all the best cards for the military that American Express has to offer.

The Best Personal American Express Cards for Military Members

Amex Platinum Card

Amex Platinum card purchase at a cafe.
Image Credit: American Express

This is probably the most obvious card choice for people, and for good reason. If you’re only looking to get one card (which you shouldn’t — take advantage of all those benefits!), then the Amex Platinum card is your best bet. Why? Because it offers a whole host of perks across for airlines, hotels, shopping, and even rideshare programs. This includes statement credits, elite status, and lounge access, all in 1 card.

Amex Platinum Card Annual Benefits

These reset each calendar year. Be aware that some are annual while others are biannual or even monthly, so you’ll need to make sure you spend them before time runs out:

As you can see, right out the gate you’re eligible to receive $500 in value each year, with an additional $85 to $100 once every 5 years, all for nothing out of pocket. Amex is also offering short-term credits with PayPal in the form of $30 per month, in addition to a monthly $25 credit to a Variis by Equinox membership (valid up to 9 times). Both of these are valid through June 2021.

Additional Amex Platinum Card Benefits

While statement credits are nice, the Amex Platinum card also offers tons more benefits, and while there is no direct cash comparison for these, depending on how often you use them you could find yourself with hundreds of dollars in perks. Even if you’re not interested in the reward travel game, points can be redeemed for things like cash and gift cards, though they’re most valuable when transferred to a partner and used for travel. Throw in elite status and lounge access, and this card becomes invaluable:

  • Accelerated Points Earning — Earn 5x points on flights booked directly with an airline or via Amex Travel, 5x points on prepaid hotels via Amex Travel, and 1x point on everything else.
  • Global Lounge Access — Access over 1,300 lounges around the world, including Centurion Lounges that feature amenities like free massages and wine tastings.
  • Hilton Honors Gold Elite Status — Receive free breakfast, room upgrades, early check-in, late checkout, and increased earnings on bonus points, among other benefits.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status — Get early check-in, late checkout, room upgrades, and increased earnings on bonus points, in addition to other benefits.
  • Rental Car Elite Status — Enjoy status with National, Hertz, and Avis that entitles you to discounts, car upgrades, and waived fees, though these vary by company.
  • Access to Fine Hotels & Resorts and the Hotel Collection — When booked with Amex Travel, you’ll earn 5x points on your hotel stay and receive perks such as a $100 food and beverage credit on your stay, third-night free on your bookings, free breakfast, room upgrades, and more.

Bottom Line: Our complete guide to Amex Platinum card benefits for active-duty U.S. military members details the thousands of dollars you could enjoy in complimentary benefits.

American Express Platinum Card® for Schwab

Couple shopping online on a laptop
Image Credit: American Express

While you need to have a Charles Schwab account to qualify for this card, it’s easy to sign up. This version of the Amex Platinum card has all the same benefits as the regular Amex Platinum card that we’ve outlined above — with 1 big caveat.

Unlike the plain Amex Platinum card, you can cash out your Membership Rewards points at a rate of 1.25 cents per point directly to your bank account. This is especially valuable if you’re not interested in award travel, as you won’t need to redeem points against any purchases or waste them on gift cards.

The Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Morgan Stanley

The Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Morgan Stanley annual engagement bonus
Image Credit: Morgan Stanley

If you can swing it, the Amex Platinum card for Morgan Stanley is potentially one of the most valuable cards you can have. That’s because, in addition to the benefits of the standard Amex Platinum card, those who open a Morgan Stanley Cash Plus account receive a $550 engagement bonus each year. This would normally cover the annual fee of the Amex Platinum card, but with yours waived, that money goes directly into your pocket.

Be aware, however, that the Cash Plus account carries a $45 monthly fee unless you meet certain qualifications: $5,000 in monthly transfers and a $25,000 average cash balance. That’s pretty steep, but Morgan Stanley broadly defines monthly transfers to include Zelle deposits and mobile checks, which makes the $5,000 per month feasible.

Bottom Line: If you can otherwise afford to keep an average of $25,000 in your account, you’ll get yourself $550 each year in addition to the thousands of dollars of regular Amex Platinum card benefits and a free authorized user — something else no other Amex Platinum card offers.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

Waldorf Astoria Maldives
Waldorf Astoria Maldives. Image Credit: Hilton

Perhaps one of our favorite cards, the Hilton Aspire card offers top-tier Diamond elite status simply for being a cardholder. You won’t find that with other competitors such as Marriott, IHG, or Hyatt, all of which offer mid-level status on their own co-branded credit cards. That’s not all, though. The Hilton Aspire card features benefits that can be worth thousands of dollars each year.

Hilton Aspire Card Annual Benefits

Unlike the Amex Platinum card, the Hilton Aspire card’s benefits are all annual:

  • $250 airline fee credit to use on incidentals like checked luggage, inflight purchase, and seat upgrades; based on the calendar year
  • $250 Hilton resort credit that can be used for incidentals or room rates at any of Hilton’s participating resorts (advanced purchase and non-refundable room rates don’t qualify); based on your cardmember anniversary
  • Free weekend night certificate valid at nearly any Hilton property; based on your cardmember anniversary
  • Up to $20 monthly credit for dining through December 31, 2021

In case we haven’t hammered this home enough, all of the Hilton Aspire card benefits come via a credit card whose annual fee is waived for active duty service members. That means that the $720 in direct credits and free night certificate — redeemable at properties like the Waldorf Astoria Maldives, where room rates can cost more than $2,000 per night— will cost you nothing out of pocket.

Additional Hilton Aspire Card Benefits

  • Hilton Honors Diamond Status — You’ll enjoy room upgrades (including suites), early-check in, late checkout, free breakfast, increased earnings on bonus points, and executive lounge access.
  • Priority Pass Membership — Access 1,300+ airport lounges around the world and bring in up to 2 guests for free.
  • Second Weekend Night Certificate — Earn a second free night certificate by spending $60,000 in a calendar year.
  • $100 On-Property Credit — Use this credit on incidentals when you book a 2-night paid stay at either Waldorf Astoria or Conrad properties.

Hot Tip: American Express Priority Pass memberships no longer offer access to non-lounge experiences, like restaurants.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card
Image Credit: American Express

The Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program has gone through some pretty significant changes in recent years as the company has done its best to integrate the Starwood Preferred Guest program with its own. When all the dust settled, one of the best things to come out of the fray was the debut of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, whose usually hefty annual fee comes with some major Marriott perks.

CardHotel RewardsSample Benefits/Fees
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
Apply Now
(at Amex's secure site)
  • 6 Marriott Rewards Points/$1 spent at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels
  • Up to $300 statement credit for purchases at Marriott Bonvoy hotels
  • Gold Elite status, Priority Pass Select Membership, complimentary anniversary night, premium internet access
  • Annual fee: $450
  • Terms Apply. For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card, click here.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card Annual Benefits

  • $300 credit for Marriott purchases (incidentals or room rates) usable at any Marriott property
  • Free night certificate usable any night of the week at properties up to 50,000 points; can be used for hundreds of dollars in value when applied to an off-peak Category 7 hotel
  • Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit valid once every 4 years
  • $20 monthly dining credit through December 31, 2021

Although the list of direct cash perks is smaller than the Hilton Aspire card, the extremely generous $300 credit isn’t limited to resort properties and its free night certificate can be used no matter what day it is. That makes both of these benefits extremely valuable and well-worth the annual-fee-waived slot in your wallet.

Additional Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card Benefits

  • Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status — You’ll get late checkout, room upgrades, and increased earnings on bonus points, in addition to other benefits.
  • $100 On-Property Credit — When booking a paid stay of at least 2 nights at Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis properties, you’ll receive a $100 credit for incidentals that can be used for things like food, drinks, and spa services.
  • Priority Pass Membership — You and 2 guests can access airport lounges around the world, with additional guests costing $32 each.
  • Elite Night Credits — Receive 15 elite night credits each year to help accelerate your track to a higher status.

Hot Tip: You don’t have to just redeem your points for hotel stays — Marriott Bonvoy has over 40 airline transfer partners! Check out our guide to the best ways to redeem your Marriott Bonvoy points for flights.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Delta Domestic First Class Meal
Image Credit: Delta Air Lines

While the Delta Reserve card isn’t as generous with its credits as Amex’s co-branded hotel cards, the card does offer some serious perks. Its main one? A companion certificate on domestic flights that’ll allow you to bring someone for just the taxes and fees.

CREDIT CARDCARD INFO
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
Apply Now
(at Amex's secure site)
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
  • Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases
  • Complimentary access into Delta Sky Clubs and Centurion Lounges.
  • Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850)
  • Annual Fee: $550
  • Terms Apply. For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve card, click here.

Must Reads: For more info on the Delta Reserve card, see our insights on its benefits and our full review.

Delta Reserve Card Annual Benefits

  • Companion certificate issued after your account anniversary each year, valid for round-trip travel within the contiguous 48 states (even in first class!)
  • 2 Delta Sky Club guest passes issued when opening the card and reissued each year after account renewal, making them a great addition to your companion certificate
  • Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit valid once every 4 years for Global Entry and every 4.5 years for TSA PreCheck
  • $20 monthly dining credit through December 31, 2021

Depending on how you use the companion certificate, it can easily net you a thousand dollars in savings (especially on those pricey transcontinental flights), though you’ll still need to pay your own fare.

Additional Delta Reserve Card Benefits

  • Delta Sky Club Access — You and any authorized users can access the Sky Club and Centurion Lounges on same-day Delta flights.
  • First Checked Bag Free — This benefit is valid for you and up to 8 companions on your reservation.
  • Priority Boarding — You and 8 companions can board with the Main Cabin 1 group, even in Basic Economy.
  • Upgrade List — This is especially valuable if you’re not an elite member because as a cardholder you’ll still be added to the complimentary upgrade list.
  • Discount on Delta Purchases — Save 20% on prepurchased and inflight food, drinks, and headsets for your Delta flight.
  • Earn Medallion Qualifying Miles — If you’re chasing elite status, you can earn 15,000 MQMs by spending $30,000 in a calendar year, with 15,000 more granted at $60,000, $90,000, and $120,000 in spending, for a total of 60,000 MQMs.
  • Waived Medallion Qualifying Dollars Requirement — Spend $25,000 on this card in a qualifying year to waive the MQD requirement for Platinum, Gold, and Silver status.

Amex Gold Card

Amex Gold card purchase at a cafe
Image Credit: American Express

Although less famous than its Platinum counterparts, the Amex Gold card offers its own slew of benefits that make it worth having. Notably, it offers a best-in-class bonus category for grocery purchases, which puts this firmly into the must-own for any family. It also boasts 4x bonus points at restaurants, a feature beaten only by the Citi Prestige card. Combined, the ability to stack up points on these common purchases makes this card essential in your everyday wallet.

Amex Gold Card Annual Benefits

  • Up to $120 dining credit valid for $10 each month when used at Grubhub, Seamless, Boxed, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, The Cheesecake Factory, and participating Shake Shack restaurants

The Gold card isn’t quite as flashy as others, but the dining credit makes for a nice perk on those days you can’t be bothered to cook.

Additional Amex Gold Card Benefits

  • 4x bonus points on groceries at U.S. supermarkets for the first $25,000 each year, then 1x points
  • 4x points at restaurants and 3x points on flights booked directly with the airline or via Amex Travel
  • Access to the Hotel Collection

The Best Business American Express Cards for Military Members

If you’ve got a small business, you can potentially score extra benefits (and credits!) by snapping up Amex’s premium business cards in addition to your personal cards. As mentioned previously— and relentlessly repeated— Amex will waive the annual fees for military members for personal as well as business cards, so it’s a no-brainer to pick these up.

Amex Business Platinum Card

Amex Business Platinum
Image Credit: American Express

The Amex Platinum card and its business version, the Amex Business Platinum, share most features, such as the annual airline credit and bonus points on flights, but there are a few key differences that the Amex Business Platinum card has to offer. Notably, the card offers a flat 1.5x bonus points on purchases over $5,000 regardless of the category, up to 1 million points per year. This is especially beneficial for non-bonused spending such as payment of taxes or tuition.

Amex Business Platinum Card Annual Benefits

  • $200 Dell credit offered in the form of $100 every 6 months
  • $200 airline fee credit for incidentals

If you play your cards right you’ll be getting $400 each year in direct credits with your Amex Business Platinum card. Don’t let Dell’s website fool you, either — there are tons of awesome things to buy at Dell within its seemingly endless depths. I’ve used mine to buy a Roomba and a Fitbit, both of which I use daily.

Additional Amex Business Platinum Card Benefits

The remaining benefits are the nearly same as the consumer version of the card, which we’ve outlined below:

Hot Tip: Trying to decide between the Amex Platinum card and the Amex Business Platinum card? We stack each card’s benefits head to head in our detailed comparison.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card

Delta Reserve Business card
Image Credit: American Express

Like the consumer card, the Delta Reserve Business card offers plenty of perks. Because most of its benefits mirror that of the personal card, this card is most valuable if you’re trying to spend your way to Delta elite status, or can otherwise put the annual companion certificate to good use. Either way, a waived annual fee means keeping it won’t cost you a dime.

Delta Reserve Business Card Annual Benefits

  • Companion certificate each card anniversary
  • 2 Delta Sky Club guest passes
  • Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit
  • $20 monthly wireless credit through December 31, 2021

Even if you use your companion certificate on a flight that only costs $200, that’s still $200 less you’ll need to pay than if you didn’t hold the card. And by making sure you switch your cell phone bill to your card, you’ll get a total of $220 off of your bill throughout the year.

Additional Delta Reserve Card Business Benefits

  • Delta Sky Club and Centurion Lounge access
  • First checked bag free for you and 8 companions
  • Priority boarding for you and 8 companions
  • Upgrade priority
  • 20% discount on Delta purchases
  • Earn Medallion Qualifying Miles
  • Waived Medallion Qualifying Dollars requirement

Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card

Domes Miramare, a Luxury Collection Resort Corfu
Domes Miramare, a Luxury Collection Resort Corfu is one of the hotels where you can redeem your free night certificate. Image Credit: Marriott

Although there isn’t an ultra-premium business version of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, Amex does offer the Marriott Bonvoy Business card. This is definitely more a mid-tier card, but the free night certificate it gives you each year can still be worth hundreds of dollars.

Marriott Bonvoy Business Annual Benefits

  • Free night certificate worth up to 35,000 points for use any night of the week
  • $15 monthly wireless credit through December 31, 2021

The certificate offered by the business card is the same offered by the Marriott Bonvoy American Express® Card (no longer open for new applications), which means if you hold all 3 co-branded Amex Marriott cards, you can turn your free nights into your own mini-vacation.

Additional Marriott Bonvoy Business Benefits

  • Marriott Bonvoy Silver elite status will get you increased points earnings, late-check out, and a dedicated reservation line
  • Additional free night certificate earned when you spend $60,000 on your card in a calendar year to earn a second certificate worth up to 35,000 points
  • 15 elite night credits (these do not stack with other Marriott Bonvoy cards)

Final Thoughts

Are you in the military? Do you like money? Then there is absolutely no reason for you to skip out on Amex’s credit card offerings. With a vast array of premium cards, you’ll be receiving thousands of dollars a year in direct credits, along with a vast swathe of benefits like free plane tickets, top-tier elite status, and free hotel stays. Don’t miss out!


The information regarding the Citi Prestige® Card, Citi Premier℠ Card, American Express Platinum Card® for Schwab, The Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Morgan Stanley, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer. 

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, click here.


Frequently asked questions

What is the best credit card for military members?

If you’re looking for just 1 card, the Amex Platinum card is the best credit card for military members, but you should consider taking advantage of Amex’s waived annual fees to score several different cards.

Is the Amex Platinum card free for military?

Yes! All of Amex’s cards are free for the military.

What is the max APR for military members?

Legally, the max APR that banks can charge for credit cards acquired after entering service is 36%. Discover, however, caps all its cards at 5.9%.

Are credit card annual fees waived for veterans?

While banks are generous in waiving annual fees for credit cards for active duty service members, those benefits unfortunately are not extended to veterans. Once you leave service banks will begin charging you the annual fees for each card. Check out the best credit cards for military veterans.

Carissa Rawson

About Carissa Rawson

Carissa is a native Californian whose taste for travel began during her seven years in the US Air Force. A former Arabic translator, her first serious journey overseas was to Jordan, where a six month deployment taught her a lot about people and a little about award travel. What started as a curiosity quickly became an obsession, and soon she had launched her own website teaching others how to travel for free.

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